It’s always with some apprehension that I open the front door to see what my five-month-old puppy Oliver (usually Ollie, unless I’m trying to be stern) has managed to find and to ravage. The most regretted items so far have been a wooden sculpture, two pairs of expensive earphones and a bicycle helmet. Fortunately, furniture, fittings and rugs have not appealed to him so much as books, magazines and journals – one London Review of Books was reduced to shreds before I even glanced at it.
Today I was surprised to see a nearly full bottle of wine on the floor – obviously knocked off a low table (careless of me!). Fortunately I’d replaced the cork firmly, and Ollie had chewed away most of the protruding bit, but hadn’t managed to dislodge it – thus saving a mess I don’t like to think about.
With a degree of appropriateness the bottle was one of a dozen Painted Wolf wines I’d been sampling over the last few days – Painted Wolf being another name for the African Wild Dog, Lycaon pictus. You can see a whole long list of other names for this beautiful and highly endangered creature on the Painted Wolf Wines website, with a lot of other info (and up to date, complete coverage of the wines and their origins – it’s a website whose full, efficient communication I can only wish was more commonly encountered). The brand was founded by Jeremy and Emma Borg, who continue to donate some of the proceeds of the wines to support conservation of the African Wild Dog.
As to the wines. Well, they are all very deftly made, with the house style one of richness, mostly with three or four grams of residual sugar, though not too overtly sweet and fruity. This straightforward, obvious (“commercial”) appeal is at the expense of character, but the wines seem to me generally good of their style, though perhaps somewhat pricey.
I must say that, as so often, I tend to favour the whites. There’s a range with black labels going as “Black Pack”, and of these my favourite was the seductive Roussanne 2012 ex Paarl – it’s a real bonus getting wines with a few years’ maturity on them, which helps the harmony and flavour complexity. Along with the richness, there’s a nice green, fresh bite. R125 ex cellar door – presumably a bit more retail. Also 2012 is a limey, fresh Chenin Blanc, mostly from the Swartland (R100 – so it’s competing with some stiff opposition from the likes of Secateurs and Mullineux Kloof Street, which are that much more dry and serious; this is more obviously “commercial”.) The entry-level Chenin, in the range called “The Den”, is pleasant and delicious enough, though I can’t help thinking one could do better for R60+.
I tried three pinotages. The reds are perhaps more emphatically in the ripe, rich, slightly sweet mode than the whites, given that they tend to lack some of the freshness that the whites have even with ripeness and a jolt of residual sugar. As one might expect from the variety, there’s more tannin in the pinotages, though they are still soft and rounded enough (partly through the hint of sweetness given by ripeness and sugar levels well above the bone-dry). The Den Pinotage again seems quite pricey at R75 , but it’s nice enough in that style. The most expensive is the Guillermo at R165 – the 2012 is more refined and harmonious than the 2011, with a good balance and integration, soft and rich with the oak well absorbed; it could benefit from a few more years in bottle I reckon. It’s from Swartland, but I slightly preferred the “Black Pack” version from Stellenbosch vines (cheaper at R110), with less oak influence, and a rather gratifying echo of bitterness to it which helped keep the generous warmth under control.
The red I most enjoyed was the Lycaon 2013 (R165), mostly from Grenache, ex-Swartland. It came closest to elegance and dryness, though still on the rich side; with a gentle tannin structure; it is rather charming and harmonious – but still pretty distant from the fresher, livelier, more “revolutionary” Swartland style.
Most expensive of the Painted Wolf wines is the Pictus, a blend of some of the best barrels each year. It was the Pictus II, largely 2010 Swartland shiraz, that my puppy was trying to open, but I liked more the current Pictus III (R190), which blends mourvèdre and grenache fairly equally with the shiraz. It’s less showy (partly thanks to less American oak) and bold, with gorgeously soft and rich tannins – molten, I feel impelled to say. As with most of the Painted Wolf wines, it’s going to be a matter of stylistic choice. If it’s ripe, rich and a little sweet stuff that you enjoy, then probably these well-made wines will not seem too pricey for the pleasure they can undoubtedly deliver.